2018-10-10

Build Your Joy Collection

Practice of the Week
Build Your Joy Collection

Category: Might Be Your Thing. The practices here are not for everyone -- but one of them may be just the thing for you! Any of these might also be, for you, in the "Occasional" category, but are listed here because they are good candidates for regular, central practices.

from Ann Richards, "Collecting Joy as a Spiritual Practice," in E. W. Wikstrom, editor, Faithful Practices: Everyday Ways to Feed Your Spirit, abridged and adapted.

I have struggled to recognize joy my whole adult life. I have always veered toward the pessimistic and skeptical. Then one day, when I was working for Rev. Ginger Luke, she encouraged me to leave my computer and come out with her to the front lawn. I was feeling overwhelmed with work and didn't want to stop typing, but grumbling to myself, I followed her.

There, alongside the walkway leading to the church was a small, lonely purple flower. I thought it sort of sad and underwhelming and was considering something polite to say when I looked up at Ginger. She brightened looking at it; her mouth became a dimple-punctuated smile. "Look! Look!” she exclaimed. Her joy was contagious. Walking back indoors, I didn't have a dowdy office; I had a shared space with my excellent friend Beth. I had good music on and was making progress with my projects. I felt joyful.

I began to conscientiously collect moments of joy that I could relive and treasure as a way to awaken joy in myself. Collecting moments of joy has become a spiritual practice for me.

1. The day-end review. Your joy collection begins by reinforcing the collection in your memory. Lying in bed at night, most of us think about events in our day. Instead of stewing about mistakes committed or rudenesses endured, make an intentional practice of reviewing moments of joy experienced that day.

2. Artifact collection. Start deliberately collecting movies, videos, books, music, art, photos, or writings that express joy. I now have a file on my computer marked "Joy" for email artifacts to review on days when I'm feeling blue and a collection of video artifacts on YouTube at home for the same purpose.

I have certain guidelines for selecting items for my joy collection:

I don't include mere happiness, peace, or serenity. It’s not always easy to tell the difference, but look for things that inspire unbridled, unbounded joy -- things that engross you with positive feeling, that you can focus on only a moment and everything else is shut out – things that leave you with a warm feeling and a smile, even when the experience is over. Look for enthusiasm, unmitigated √©lan: the wide-eyed, panting, bop, bang, boom of Animal the Muppet playing the drums. (There is an interview with Animal viewable online, and he says that the two things he loves the most in this world are drums and bunny rabbits. He's a fictional character, but I believe him! His drum playing gives the viewer a vicarious thrill. I’m no drummer, but watching Animal do what he loves gives me a new sense of what joy can be.)

Joy is infectious, so look for it in others. It’s infectious even if the other person is joyful about something that wouldn’t make you joyful. For example, the Edwin Hawkins Singers exude joy in their great gospel song, "Oh Happy Day." I'm not a born-again Christian, and I don't share the religious fervor that inspired Edwin Hawkins to write this song. It doesn't matter. I can hear their joy, and that lets me take it on for myself.

Byrd Baylor's beautiful picture book, I'm in Charge of Celebrations explains how she creates her own holidays based on the moments in her life she most wants to remember. I added this artifact to my joy collection the very first time I read it. I have also adopted the book’s approach. To be be in charge of my own celebrations, I don’t include in my collection memories or mementos of events where joy may have been a heavy expectation. I don’t include weddings or births, for example. The holiday season can feel like a tyranny of prescribed joy. I often do experience joy at weddings, births, and holiday celebrations, but I leave this joy out of my joy collection, which is reserved for items not freighted with expectation.

Another sort of joy I exclude from my collection are victories that came with someone else’s defeat. I have worked hard on political campaigns, for instance, and my candidates sometimes win. That kind of joy is worth remembering and savoring, but I don't include those moments in my spiritual practice collection because someone else was miserable.

3. Sharing. With technology we can have a further communal practice of sharing these artifacts. We are privileged to be able to hear live music -- every Sunday morning, even if at no other time. The joy is, in part, from experiencing it together. With the internet we can hear at any time Anna Maffo's version of Songs of the Auvergne, or Katrina and the Waves' “Walking on Sunshine.” But can we have it as a shared joy? Sure! We can share artifacts of joyful experiences with others.

The spiritual practice of collecting moments of joy has grown for me as I share them with the people I love. They may not feel the same sense of joy I do when listening, looking, and sharing, but they do get to know a little more about me, and I have the wonderful feeling of enjoying those moments again with those I care about.

Share links of your favorite music to friends you haven't seen in a while, share photos of your joyful moments in nature with homebound congregants, or read a poem over Skype to a friend. To keep the moments that bring you true joy to yourself is a lost opportunity. Here, I'll share one with you right now: if you haven't heard John Mayall's harmonica solo in “Room to Move," you must!



For Journaling

In your journal, reflect on these questions:
  • How do you define joy in your life? How do you know it when you experience it?
  • Do you tend to really take note of the moments of joy in your life, or are they overshadowed by more difficult things and times?
  • What is the difference between "joy” and “happiness"?
  • How might you integrate a practice like this into your own life?

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